Tag Archives: Dark Imperium

A Darker World Is Not Far From Us

Chaos has always been portrayed as more than just another enemy. Whilst the Imperium stood at the heart of the 40k story with the xenos races arrayed around it like wolves waiting to pull the big beast down, Chaos was the Imperium’s equal – its dark reflection. One is led to believe that the Imperium could hold back any one of the xenos threats with ease, if only they were attacking it one at a time like bad guys in a martial arts film. The eldar are too few now to present a real danger, the tau too small and isolated. The orks, as is always noted, could destroy us all – if only they stopped fighting each other for long enough to knock over humanity’s sandcastles. Of course we’re told that the tyranids and/or necrons will soon kill everyone, but this is generally presented as something of a “by-the-way” which to me means it has often seemed either a distant threat, or so overwhelming as to make all other faction’s involvement seem pointless.

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Not chaos though. Chaos is in all of us. Every man who marches in the armies of the Imperium could someday turn his coat and fight beneath the eight-pointed star instead. If the Imperium fielded an army of just one man then that man might turn his back on the Emperor and fight instead for the Ruinous Powers. If they sent an army a billion strong to defeat him then they might win… or they might find a billion new enemies marching back towards them. The tau can be eradicated, the eldar driven to extinction, the Imperium brought to ruin and the numberless swarms of the tyranids exhausted, but so long as a single human remains alive in the galaxy Chaos will never die.

Like an infection it leaps from one carrier to the next. No-one is entirely immune, regardless of what the Grey Knights will tell you, and once a person is corrupted they will inevitably seek to corrupt others. Should the right person fall billions more can fall with them. Corrupt a planetary governor and a whole world can tumble. When Horus fell half the Imperium followed.

Fight it head on and you only feed it. Try to ignore it, deny its reality, smash the churches and burn the holy books, and Chaos sneaks back in via the back door.

Horrors

We know of course that there are various factions within all of the races, clans of orks, necron dynasties, tyranid hive fleets and so on. You’re encouraged to paint them different colours, and – especially since the arrival of Warhammer 40k’s 8th edition – there are even rules so that they perform differently in the game. The eldar have a bit more depth; there are the craftworlders, the dark kin of Commortagh, the dancing harlequins of the Black Library, the newly formed Ynnari and, for enthusiast convertors, even exodites and corsairs. Really though it’s the Imperium to whom the greatest attention has been devoted. We have six brands of space marine alone, various imperial guard regiments, the wonderfully weird tech-cult of the Adeptus Mechanicis, the towering knights, the golden armoured Custodes, the shadowy Inquisitors, the one man armies of the Assassinorum and those perpetually overlooked nuns with guns – the Sisters of Battle. The thing is, Chaos is always described as having all that and more. Four distinct gods place their influence upon chaos space marine legions, traitor primarchs, rebel guard regiments, beastmen herds, daemonic choirs, fallen knight households and the daemon-smiths of the Dark Mechanicus. It’s as if there was another Imperium, a twisted reflection of the first, a Dark Imperium if you will.

The battle between the Imperium and Chaos then is not the story of the old empire falling to the barbarians at the gates but the story of two equals fighting for dominance. The Empire of the Eye has stood almost as long as the Imperium and its history is just as rich and complex as that of its real space reflection.

Roboute Guilliman

When Roboute Guilliman arrived in the 40k setting earlier this year I was furious. I even wrote a long and extremely angry blog post, which thankfully I never posted, decrying the state of the world and GW’s decision to put profit over quality. To me the daemon primarchs belonged in the setting and their return was welcome but their flesh and blood brothers should have stayed dead. I got over it though. Guilliman may walk and talk but the galaxy is a big place and his presence hasn’t impinged on my enjoyment of the game one way or another. I even read Guy Haley’s Dark Imperium (and, beneath my dwarf-like contempt for this newfangled tinkering with the established lore, secretly rather enjoyed it).

The age of the Emperor ended when he was placed upon the golden throne. This is the story of twin empires locked in a struggle to the death and of brothers fighting over their father’s kingdom.

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Warhammer as was told the story of many races, empires and nations. Age of Sigmar is a veritable soup of them. Nor do all of those stories focus around human protagonists. Central themes in the World That Was included the age long struggle between the self-righteous Elves of Ulthuan and their infinitely superior kin in Naggaroth, whilst dwarves, skaven and goblins battled in the sunless depths without anyone in the Empire or Bretonnia even knowing about it.

Without Chaos however 40k runs the risk of being a one horse town, with the Imperium at the heart of every story. Sure there are epic confrontations going on in the margins, the Eldar battling the Tyranids at Valedor, the Orks also fighting the Tyranids in Octarius, but in the main it’s all been about the Imperium. What’s more, for all the Chaos has traditionally been presented as the biggest baddy of them all, in recent years it’s star had started to wane. Bigger threats were descending on the galaxy, threats which would see all human life obliterated regardless of whether they worshipped a corpse god or grew tentacles from their ears. Either the Necrons were going to wake up and obliterate all organic life with the flick of a switch or the Tyranids were going to eat everyone. Against this Chaos was starting to feel a little weak. To criticise poor old Abaddon because you’ve never read the background and his arms keep falling off has long been akin to waving a flag and publicly declaring you’re an ass but even so one started to wonder if his long war wasn’t taking a little bit too long. Surely if he didn’t crack on his hordes would eventually come pouring from the Eye of Terror only to find a galaxy stripped of life and nothing left to fight but a lone genestealer fighting a broken necron in the ruins of the Imperial Palace. It’s one thing to unite the warring Chaos legions beneath one banner, quite another to take so long doing it that you end up missing the apocalypse you were planning to unleash. Yet whilst Abaddon was running the risk of being the big baddie who get’s beaten at the end of every episode some filthy xenos were about to blow up the whole galaxy – and that would never do.

Bloodthirster

Now this isn’t intended to do down the xenos (some of my best friends are xenos) who enrich the setting so deeply or to claim special treatment for my army just because I’m super special myself. Indeed I’d like to see the various alien races expanded upon further and with luck GW are cracking on behind the scenes with exactly that. However when the threat they pose reaches apocalyptic levels it risks becoming too abstract, too overwhelming, to engage with alone. When one looks at the innumerable hordes of the Tyranids pouring in from the depths of space one tends to think that the Imperium might as well just go home and put their feet up, they’re all going to be eaten whatever they do so there’s not much point struggling especially not when they already have a galaxy-sized guass flayer to their collective heads. Chaos though is an enemy you can fight – not just with your bolters in the burning streets, not just on the tabletop, but in your own heart and soul. No-one looks at a Tyranid and thinks “I really understand where these guys are coming from! If I was living in the 41st Millennium I’d want to strip planets of their biomass too!” I can’t put myself in the shoes of a soulless Necron automaton, and even the Eldar and Orks are relatively inscrutable and inhuman to our gaze. Chaos though speaks to us, to our ambition, to our righteous anger, to our will to freedom and self-determination, to our hunger to live, to our moral drives and the very emotions that make us human.

The Imperium needs an enemy we can empathise with, an enemy that speaks to us in our own voice so that we can cringe with horrified fascination as they tear each other apart. Ultimately if GW are serious about the 40k setting evolving then the Imperium needs an equal. It needs Chaos.

All artwork used belongs to Games Workshop and is used without permission as a result of sheer badness on my part.

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Dark Imperium – Nurgle

“Sickness, disease, plague and pox, suffering and the slow, living rot. Such wondrous gifts does Nurgle seek to bestow upon the unworthy human cattle of the Imperium. We are merely the vectors by which his virulent beneficence may be spread to the undeserving masses”

– Urgloth Rotheart, Plague Champion of the Death Guard.

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So, having cast my eye over the Space Marines in the Dark Imperium boxset, now we turn our attention to Mortarion’s sons, the plague infested legion of the Death Lord and the most devoted of Nurgle’s followers; the Death Guard. Move over loyalist scum – this is the real release that I’m excited about!

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Lord of Contagion

Chaos worshipper’s being a fractious lot there was always going to need to be someone in charge who could stamp their authority on the Nurgly warriors in this boxset. Indeed, in a generous move on GW’s part, we get three of them. Of those three however it doesn’t take an expert to spot which one is in overall command. A hulking warrior-king glad in slab-like Terminator armour the Lord of Contagion stands out at a glance and will be both a staple of painting contests and an imposing presence on the tabletop for years to come. Expect to see this guy showing up at Golden Daemon a lot (don’t worry – as an entry, not a contestant!).

Lord of Contagion

In a recent interview sculptor Maxime Pastourel said he intended the model to be a 40k iteration of the Brian Nelson Nurgle Lord, justly regarded as a modern classic. However, in spite of some superficial similarities – they’re both champions of the Plague God with distended guts, pitted armour and outsized axes – there’s not a huge crossover between the two. The Nurgle Lord is a paragon of simplicity, without frills or fussy details. Its strength is its minimalism, without a single extraneous element. It’s this that makes it so popular with convertors, to the extent that it is often joked that everyone in the world has converted at least one.

The Lord of Contagion however is the exact opposite of this. It’s hard to imagine anyone but the most talented and dedicated making much of it as the basis for conversions, and it’s decked out with the kind of details that will have painters rejoicing and convertors tearing their hair in frustration. What it is however is an outstanding example of the sort of single figure plastic characters that GW excels at.

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Having said that I couldn’t help but stand it next to the leader of my Nurgle army, Ghisguth the Reaper. Once an impressive figure (in my eyes at least), poor Ghisguth now seems a little on the small side (a recurring theme throughout this release you may have noticed). Next to this rival his chances of remaining in charge for long look almost as poor as Theresa May’s (and the similarities don’t end there – just look at the scythe I’ve armed him with, you wouldn’t let him anywhere near a field of wheat either). Thus I find myself wondering about the potential of converting a new version of Ghisguth from the Lord of Contagion. It wouldn’t require any major changes to the new model, which is a relief as anything more than altering a few details looks to be hideously difficult. It’s also fair to say that I really like the original model so making any major alterations risks destroying the character of the piece that I loved to begin with. However, the one downside I see in the excellent HQ figures released in GW’s starter sets is that their popularity soon means one is bombarded with them – every greenskin army in the world contains this Ork warboss for example. By making at least some changes, I get around the problem of having the same centrepiece figure as everyone else – after all, it was a desire to own unique models that drew me to Chaos in the first place!

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The Lord of Contagion towers over his loyalist kin and looks more than capable of putting the Corpse-God’s servants in their place!

Noxious Blightbringer

Could this be my favourite model in the box? That would be a high honour, and the competition is stiff, but there’s no denying this is an impressive figure. There is a restrained horror to the model, the hideous diseases and weird mutations that presumably wrack it are hinted at, but never openly shown, which allows the imagination to glut itself on the possibilities. What vileness is concealed behind the heavy iron mask or sagging apron? Rather than just showing us the sculptors allow us to draw our own conclusions, a move which displays a real maturity on their part. Anyone can splatter greenstuffed guts around the place but in their moderation and self-discipline they have created a model of lasting impact and quality.

What’s more the bells that swing at the model’s sides, and most obviously the great sweep of bone above his head, give the Blightbringer a real elegance – not a word often associated with Nurgle but definitely applicable here. The bell itself has a genuine sense of weight, you can imagine it rocking slowly back and forth in time with the monstrous space marine’s trudging steps.

Noxious Blightbringer

Those wanting to add a second Blightbringer to their army could adjust the angle of the bell or, by carefully cutting away the mask, give the model a headswap. The bell itself would look magnificent mounted atop almost any Nurgle vehicle you can imagine (tanks, dreadnaughts, palanquins etc) or as a piece of terrain or objective marker.

The one element I don’t find particularly necessary are the maggots which crawl over the model’s pitted armour. What do they bring to it that wouldn’t exist without them? To my eye they look like a box ticking exercise, as though the model fell short on some supposed scale of disgustingness, and could be raised a few percentage points towards a preset repugnance threshold through the addition of a few wriggling larva. Take them away and the mind is drawn back to all that is hidden from view and all the revolting possibilities thus contained.

Malignant Plaguecaster

And then they went and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like “Hey, we need an extra model, this one will do!” The poor old Malignant Plaguecaster has crawled from the Garden of Nurgle into a torrent of universal distain, cheap jokes and general abuse. There’s no denying that it’s a hard model to love, seemingly cobbled together from a grab bag of bad ideas into one disappointing whole. From the weird baby face to the silly-looking headgear, from the staff – apparently borrowed from the Sylvaneth – to the farty lump representing some kind of spell, it’s a mish-mash of failed ideas that somehow manages to be even worse than the sum of its parts.Malignant Plaguecaster (2)

Seen from the side the cape is revealed, another attempt to make this model flashier than it should have been. Clearly intended to echo the shape of a fly’s wings, and balance out the spell effect, it instead adds another dimension of mistakes to an already troubled miniature. Capes billowing out at head height are an effect that many sculptors have attempted over the years but none have succeeded at and this model was never going to be the place that it suddenly came into its own.Malignant Plaguecaster (1)

Overall then this is a model which would have benefited greatly from a more conservative approach. Rather than attempting to show off GW could simply have copied the old Forge World Nurgle sorcerer, creating a model which was both a highly customisable blank canvas for convertors and a striking miniature in its own right.

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The question that thousands of Nurgle fans across the globe are currently asking themselves is; can it be saved? Personally I’m fairly certain it can and intend to attempt just that, so check back over the next few weeks to see how I get on.

Plague Marines

Moving on to more instantly appealing models we have the Plague Marines. On the Nurgle side of the box these form the core of the set, the lynchpin around which the rest of the army is built. Nail this and any mistakes elsewhere can be forgiven, mess it up the whole release starts to look like a flop. Did they manage it? With Maxime Pastourel, the man who made the Plague Bones, as lead sculptor? Of course they managed it! After putting up with frankly less than impressive Plague Marines for years these are a revelation and a true joy to see at last.

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The sheer amount of detail that’s been packed into them is astounding. Each one is a character in his own right, hulking brutes festooned with elements that combine to instantly characterise them as the ten-thousand year old plague infested warriors they are. The only downside is that, much like the Chosen from the Dark Vengeance box, they look to be a real headache to convert – although far from impossible – but I’ve not given up hope that a multi-part kit is somewhere in our future. What is exciting is the way that some components have been re-used, meaning that – in a huge improvement on previous boxsets – even without making any adjustments every one of these Plague Marines is unique. Those wanting to take things further should look to the Putrid Blightkings, the ever reliable workhorse of Nurgle kits – some wonderfully disgusting conversions await!

Standing next to my old Plague Marines the new models look positively gigantic, although the blame for that lies with the shortness of the old models who barely reach the shoulder of the lowly cultists that serve them.

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Even my beloved (although as yet unfinished) ‘tall’ Plague Marines come up a little small next to these chaps, matching them in height but not in bulk.

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My converted Plague Terminators still have the edge in terms of size although there’s not a lot in it. Of course I’m still praying (in a suitably filthy and germ-infested fane!) for an official Plague Terminators kit, whilst at the same time worrying that it’ll make my lovingly converted models look as stunty as the finecast Plague Marines do next to their new plastic brothers. Ah the complex duality of being a Chaos fan!

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Of course having painted a second edition Plague Marine last week we can now take a look at a family photo charting the development of Nurgle’s followers down the years. The newcomers may be bigger and more impressive but they’re still models that recall their history from the spidery arms of their backpacks to the tips of their hooves.

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In spite of being considerably bigger than the previous incarnation of the Plague Marines however these models don’t quite match the Primaris marines for height, at least partly because they still lack the fully developed abdomen of their loyalist cousins. It’s not a major issue, the quality of the models is so high it’s easy to overlook and the bloated guts cover up most of the abdomen anyway, but it’s something GW will have to watch when they come to working on the World Eaters and Emperor’s Children (which given the long lead in time required to create these models probably happened long ago).

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On Sunday Games Workshop announced the first follow up release to bolster the contents of Dark Imperium. Alongside a new Captain and Librarian we see the new Space Marine Reivers who wear leering skull masks intended to inspire terror in their enemies. What was it Konrad Curze said about death being nothing compared to vindication? Don’t worry Konrad, they say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

More excitingly however we also saw new Plague Marines, each easily the equal of those included with Dark Imperium.New Plague Marines

 

What’s as yet unclear however is how many models will be included in these new boxsets. At the time of writing only three have been revealed and none of them look like this chap. Hopefully that means a multipart kit is still waiting for us over the coming months but as yet we have to wait and see.

More New Death Guard

Foetid Bloat-Drone

The biggest model in the entire set, and therefore one that was bound to grab attention, is the Foetid Bloat-Drone. Again this is an outstanding model, the fly icon on the carapace is an excellent touch whilst the three spiked-turbines – echoing the shape of Nurgle’s sigil – gives it an instantly striking and recognisable silhouette. It’s also a real chimera, combining elements of the organic and mechanical with considerable flair. Look over it and you’ll spot elements that suggest both buzzing insect and bloated, earth-grubbing mammal, drifting sea-creature and archaic machinery. In spite of this it remains a tightly co-ordinated model, without any unnecessary details, making it another example of the kind of blank canvas that convertors of all stripes will love. I’m already pondering how easy it would be to remove the spikes and horns and turn it back into whatever Mechanicum engine it originated as, before Nurgle started to mutate it (the fleshy belly would be a problem – but not an insurmountable one…). Those thinking even bigger might start to wonder how the front part of the model – from the fly icon forward, without the turbines, guns or trailing cables – would look as the head of a corrupted Knight.  Bloat Drone 4

Using something slightly more unusual as the vehicle kit was always going to be a gamble (people know where they stand with a dreadnaught and those who know what they like and like what they know may have raised an eyebrow at this) but they pulled it off with aplomb. By putting the weirdness front and centre have stamped their creativity very firmly on this set, whilst still remaining true to the Death Guard’s roots and providing the fans with plenty of “wish list” kits, the kind of thing we’ve been banging on about wanting to see for years all wrapped up in a single straightforward kit.

Of course the Bloat-drone is a plastic reinvention of Forge World’s classic Blight Drone (now known as a “Greater Blight Drone” – presumably to differentiate it further from the Bloat-drone). It’s something that GW have made use of many times before, using Forge World as a test bed for new ideas from the Trygon to Heresy-era Space Marine armour. Who knows, perhaps when they get around to a full World Eaters release we’ll see plastic Blood Slaughterers as well. A man can dream eh!

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It’s easy to wax lyrical over the qualities of the new GW but for Chaos fans there is a particular joy in this box. For how long have we been putting up with our ancient plague marine models and wishing, but never believing, that we might someday see Zombies or Blight Drones in plastic? Yet throughout most of that time extracting a single scrap of corrupted power armour from Citadel’s forges has been a particularly arduous exercise in pulling teeth. Now, after what’s felt like ten millennia of fighting over scraps and kitbashing loyalist models with bits of daemons, the Great Rift has torn reality from here to Nottingham and the models we’ve been crying out for have started to spill out.

Poxwalkers

For some time now Nurgle’s legions have been described marching to war preceded by a shambling host of infected corpses; the Plague Zombies. Spread by Typhus, the Death Guard’s most famous son after the Primarch himself, the infection reanimates the dead and sends them lurching towards their former allies in the sort of terrifying horde familiar to horror movie fans everywhere. In the most recent Chaos Marines codex these zombies could be created as an upgrade to chaos cultists, if Typhus himself was in play, but models were not forthcoming. Instead players converted their own, often mixing parts from the Imperial Guard range with the zombies from Warhammer’s Vampire Counts range – itself almost ten thousand years old. Until recently I was pondering making my own by applying greenstuff to Cadians – and then the Poxwalkers arrived and saved the day.

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Slightly more nuanced than simple zombies, these combine elements of Nurgle cultists and mutants with the living dead, leading one to surmise that – whilst some are undoubtedly unwilling victims of Nurgle’s afflictions – others have gleefully embraced their infections. Brilliantly they also include lots of visual references to the Plague Bearers, suggesting that their eventual fate is to become part of Nurgle’s daemonic legions.

Some, like this one, are simply brilliant little character sketches, packed with the kind of personality that we’re used to seeing from GW’s character models.

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This little chap just wants to be as cool and iconic as his big brother.

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Others seem faintly ridiculous, the various tentacles and appendages flailing around without any apparent common direction to suggest co-ordinated motion. Of course zombies are given to shambling awkwardly, no-one ever heard of a lithe or balletic zombie, but a unified direction at least is vital to creating a sense of threat. Many of the Poxwalkers appear to be looking right at you, plotting behind that rictus grin how to cross the distance between you and them as quickly as their rotting limbs will allow and mess you up as badly as fate has messed them up. This one however appears to be doing the hokey-cokey.

Thats What Its All About

A bit of snipping and slicing went a long way towards improving him though, taking away or adjusting those elements which deviated from the direction of the model’s gaze. The result, hopefully, is something with an appearance of singular purpose and threat.

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Meanwhile, this one is appears to be wearing some kind of chem-suit, presumably designed for use in the most hostile of environments, but still utterly wasted against Nurgle.Poxwalkers Convert Or Die (3)

The one thing I really dislike about this one is the gas tank swinging at his side, a feature which only serves to make the model look ungainly without bringing any positive benefits. Cue some more swift converting as the gas tank is snipped off and a new one added (taken from the Kharadron Overlords). Whilst I was about it I adjusted the positioning of the knife he’s carrying to make him a little more aggressive and a little less flailing.

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When I first saw the Poxwalkers this disparity between the models I loved and the ones that jarred with me left me dissatisfied by the whole set. However after I spotted this chap I started to rethink a little.

Poxwalker by Mystarikum

Poxwalker – painted and converted by Nic from Mystarikum.

Painted by Nic over at the Mystarikum this is a rather grubbier Poxwalker than those produced by ‘Eavy Metal. It’s also, in my opinion, a rather more fitting look for them, the clean, sharp style preferred by ‘Eavy Metal doing no favours to these filthy walking corpses.

Those planning a Poxwalker horde over their own should also take a look at WilhelMiniatures. Wilhelm has toned his models down considerably in comparison to the exotically mutated originals, to create a set of nicely restrained zombies. Even if you want to keep the crazy mutations among your own ranks I’d still highly recommend following his progress – after all a bit of variety is a must in any zombie horde.

Wilhelm Poxwalker

Poxwalker by WilhelMiniatures.

Fresh Fevers

Back in March Games Workshop announced a forthcoming Death Guard release and, in spite of the many Nurgle worshipping models in the Dark Imperium boxset, it’s safe to say that this isn’t it. Various models shown in the video remain unaccounted for, this Plague Marine for example, which suggests a further release is still to come.

New Death Guard Incoming

Precisely what models will emerge alongside said release remains a topic of hot debate wherever fans of the Plague God are gathered together. Just as the Thousand Sons release included both Ahriman and the Primarch Magnus the Red so it seems likely that a new model for Typhus will appear alongside the Primarch Mortarion – a character widely referenced in recent 40k fiction. A multi-part Plague Marines box seems likely, Plague Terminators would be a safe bet and many people have pointed to the similarity between the grub-like monstrosities appearing alongside the Death Guard in recent artwork and hints shown in GW’s “Rumour Engine” promotional material. Of course a new model for the Great Unclean Ones would also be wonderful. Allow me, however, to suggest another contender for a forthcoming release. Alongside all the wonderful miniatures I’ve been pouring over in the last two posts the Dark Imperium box contains the full rulebook for Warhammer 40,000. Those with a copy handy should turn to pages 159 and 161 which detail, respectively, the forces engaged in the Plague Wars of Ultramar and the Fall of Cadia. Alongside the familiar Nurgle forces we find reference to Blight Towers – most likely a new name for the Plague Towers of Nurgle – and two Pestigor Legions.

Youngsters may be scratching their heads at this but older hands may remember that the beastmen of Chaos once contained four distinct breeds, one for each of the Gods. Slaangors served Slaanesh, Tzaangors Tzeentch, Bloodgors or Khorngors Khorne and Pestigors Nurgle. With the Tzaangors unexpectedly resurrected alongside the Silver Tower release and then gathered into the fold of the Thousand Sons Legion  it suddenly seems entirely possible that the Plague God’s cloven followers will soon join them, especially given their unexpected referencing in the fiction. Time to resurrect my Bloodgor conversions I think…

As for the Blight Towers this may simply be a reference to an old Epic model that’s continued to pop up in the background but, given that Plague Towers had rules in Apocalypse until very recently and that the Lord of Skulls demonstrates GW’s willingness to experiment with god-specific super heavy vehicles, it’s not entirely outside the realms of possibility that a new kit might be on its way for these as well. I’m not holding my breath for them mind you but if I was a betting man then the Pestigors would have my money.

Passing On The Infection

So now it’s over to you. Do you love the new models with an uncritical passion, or should I face the Emperor’s judgment for expressing such heretical views. Do you think I’m talking rot (boom boom!) or do you already have some pestilent models in the works? The comment’s box, as ever, is your stage and soapbox.

 

All images are either mine, credited to their respective creators or belong to Games Workshop. Let the galaxy burn!


Dark Imperium – The Marines

By now the eighth edition of Warhammer 40,000 has well and truly launched, with copies of the new Dark Imperium boxset falling into the grubby paws of hobbyists the world over and the internet groaning under the weight of unboxing videos and reviews. Some might go so far as to wonder if another one is really necessary but when has that ever stopped me before? Indeed this release is proving to be so seminal, and my resultant spiel so lengthy, that I’ll be splitting it over two posts. In the second half we’ll don our rebreathers, daub the mark of Nurgle on our foreheads and wallow in the Death Guard side of the box but for today let’s armour ourselves in faith and ceramite and tackle the models everyone’s been talking about; the Space Marines.

The Avenging Son

Much has already been made of this newest addition to the 40k back-story with the fan-base polarising between those who’re overjoyed at seeing progression in a stagnating universe and those who’d have preferred if those responsible had been drowned at birth. Pity the poor Games Workshop writer who must tread the fine line between the fanatical fans and the equally frothing outraged, especially when the former seems able to become the latter in a heartbeat if things don’t play out exactly as they’d have liked.

Whilst much sound and fury has been expended over the fiction however the models themselves have been almost universally praised, and rightly so. These are the towering, powerful warriors that have always been described in the background fiction, not the stunted figures that we’ve been forced to contend with on the table top.

Space Marine Intercessors

The meat of this release, on the Space Marine side of the box, are the Intercessors  and their plasma firing buddies the Hellblasters. Essentially these are Tactical Marines scaled up to the size they should have been to begin with. People may bang on about Cawl-pattern bolters and Mark X armour with subtly different trims but at the end of the day these are True-scale marines gift-wrapped in just enough fiction (of hotly debated quality) to avoid invalidating the existing range. Whether or not that proves to be a good move remains to be seen.

In many ways there’s not a whole lot to say about them, they’re Space Marines plain and simple, just  a bit bigger than we’re used to. This simplicity is their greatest strength however, allowing one to adorn them as much or as little as one wants to, to create the Space Marines you’ve always imagined. Even I, an avowed heretic, who’s struggled in the past to conjure much more than disinterest when it comes to the Emperor’s Finest (in spite of painting quite a few of them a couple of years ago) will admit to sketching out ideas for a new Chapter when I’m meant to be thinking about work.

It’s worth noting however that although these are essentially just up-scaled space marines there have been some subtle tweaks which create a much needed appearance of functionality. The squashed torsos of the old marines are gone replaced with a longer abdomen, providing the Space Marine with much needed storage space for all his internal organs, and a bit of extra height into the bargain. Not only does this mean the Primaris marines are taller, they look taller too – or to put it differently, the old marines not only suffered from being short they also had specific design features which made them look even shorter than they were.

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Making them bigger has also given the designers more space to work with, enough that they can expand on details which themselves add to the functional appearance of the armour. Take a look at the ribbed material which provides the suit’s flexibility and you’ll find there’s more of it, creating the impression that the wearer could actually move and fight at speed, without constantly having to struggle against the friction of scraping armour panels.

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A nice comparison shot of Space Marine bums – bet you didn’t think you’d be seeing that when you woke up this morning!

Best of all, in my opinion, we now have nice big power-packs for our marines. The silhouette of the Space Marine is so familiar to us all that there’s something subtly wrong with truescaled marines saddled with tiny backpacks.Backpack Space Marine

However, whilst a lot of elements have scaled up, two key components have stayed the same size; the heads and the shoulder pads. Again this relieves the Primaris marines from the problem of having outsized heads and shoulders that the old-marines suffered from, with the neat knock-on benefit of allowing Space Marine fans access to a huge range of customisation options right from the get-go. You want Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Space Wolves, Grey Knights, or to cobble in bits and pieces of older armour marks? Knock yourself out! No need to wait for them to get their own dedicated Primaris release, just dig into your bits box and get started now! Bits sellers and ebayers must be rubbing their hands with glee and expanding their property portfolios as we speak.

Snarky comments aside though the great benefit of this is the ability to customise the new Space Marines straight off the bat and naturally I was unable to resist. Once a multipart version of the kit is released (pretty much inevitable I’d say) with separate shoulder-pads the options will really expand and whole armies of individualised true-scaled space-knights will suddenly be within the grasp of everyone, without the tremendous effort that was once required.

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” Oh, you think darkness is your ally. But you merely adopted the dark; I was born in it, moulded by it…”

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Just for fun, and because I’m an unrepentant heretic at heart, I cobbled together a Chaos marine from Primaris parts; a three dimensional sketch if you will, to help me plan out some future projects. Of course I’m looking forward to it popping up on Natfka any day now, tagged as “New plastic Chaos Marines spotted!”

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Of course not everything in the box is perfect. I think by now my feelings on Space Marines wielding bolters one handed are probably well know. This chap may have the rule of cool on his side but think about how he’d look in action, blazing away with that huge, unwieldy bolter in one hand (the kickback alone sending shots all over the place) and the pistol in the other.

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Seen side by side with the Mark IV helmet (right) the similarities are clear, although the Primaris has a flatter face and more slanted “ears” which helps it to fit into the family of Space Marine helmet designs, whilst remaining its own entity. In this way the Primaris models are actually given a degree of personality, as most of the other featured changes represent an up-scaling of the armour and the introduction of greater functionality, nothing that one would not have expected from a straightforward truescaling of the old astartes.

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In spite of all the celebrating that must be going on at Games Workshop HQ and the congratulations echoing from every corner of the internet as reviewers get their hands on the new kits, spare a thought for those who already have armies of power armoured warriors painted and waiting for battle. Thanks to GW’s insistence on putting Space Marines front and centre in every conceivable release over the last three decades there are now quite a lot of us. At one time a widely quoted statistic (veracity unknown) was that one in four miniatures purchased, across all companies (not just GW) was a Space Marine. Whilst I’ve no idea if that’s true there’s certainly a lot of us out there.

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On the loyalist side we have Space Marines in a host of different colours and rules, plus Dark Angels, Blood Angels, Space Wolves, Grey Knights and the Deathwatch, whilst the traitors get in on the act with our own array of spiky, angry mutant super-soldiers. That’s a lot of power armour that suddenly looks distinctly short and awkward. Many will choose to ignore this, some of us (myself included) will accept that we’ve no-one to blame but ourselves for not true-scaling earlier and begin the work of bulking up those models we think are saveable. Many will see this as an opportunity to set aside old armies and start new ones and cash registers will light up in branches of Games Workshop the world over, to the heartfelt delight of the shareholders. Some people however will feel distinctly cheesed off – and who can blame them? When Games Workshop first released those stunted little marines all those years ago they ignored the first tenant of being in a hole – stop digging! Instead they went on burrowing assiduously and we, the customers, joined them in droves. So energetic was our participation in expediting this screw up that we hit oil down there, enough to make GW rich. For years they must have been aware of the scale of their mistake yet they chose not to attempt to rectify it, continuing to ring every penny from a flawed range until finally it became apparent that more money could be made from reinventing it. Then, and only then, was the decision taken to put right that old wrong. So whilst I’m overjoyed by the arrival of appropriately scaled Space Marines I can empathise with those who’ve poured money and time into armies of short-marines and are now angry enough to put Khorne to shame.

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My own Space Marines. Making up in garish paintwork for what they lack in stature.

Last time I discussed this I pondered if the arrival of the Primaris marines would see the death of truescaling. Increasingly however I feel sure that it shall see the death of the Space Marines themselves. Indeed, in the short term, interest in true-scaling will increase as people attempt to get their old models to an appropriate scale alongside the new releases.

Now that we have Primaris marines in our hands the old style “short-marines” of the past will almost certainly see no further releases. Imagine Games Workshop trying to drum up enthusiasm for a new Space Marine release in the old scale now. It would be a flop and they know it.

Of course that’s going to be bad news for pre-existing and well loved Space Marine characters like Dante, Mephiston and Ragnar Blackmane. Will they ever see new models now, and if they do will they have quietly grown to the proportions of their new brothers or will they still be smashing up the galaxy with nothing but short-man syndrome as an ally?

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Ragnar Blackmane. If you had to face Magnus the Red whilst looking this ugly you’d be angry too.

So how big are the new Primaris marines? By now we’ve all seen plenty of size comparisons online or even in the flesh, yet the difference in scale between the new models and their older counterparts (here a Dark Vengeance marine) remains shocking.

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Even standing next to a Terminator (from the Black Reach boxset) the Primaris looks big, although the Terminator still has the edge in bulk. As it stands we’re still waiting to discover if GW will be releasing Primaris-scale Terminators over the coming months or if terminator armour has been replaced by Gravis armour (as worn by the Captain in the Dark Imperium boxset). If it’s the latter – surely a mistake on GW’s part – then truescaling terminators will be the next step. Watch this space!

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Next to the common soldiers of the Imperium the size difference is even more acute. Finally the Emperor’s Finest look as mighty and terrifying as they are supposed to.

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They’re still shorter than an Ogryn, which is as it should be, but the size difference is no longer as extreme, and the similarity in height to the hulking brutes actually helps to establish the Space Marines as giants in their own right. Mind you I’m suspicious that this particular Ogryn has been exposed to something heretical. Someone phone the Inquisition!

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I’m also pleased to see that they look suitably bulky next to my old scout conversions, meaning that – with a quick lick of paint – these at least can be migrated over to the new collection.

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This Imperial family photo shows the progression I was hoping for, the Scout is clearly bigger and bulkier than the Guardsman but is yet to complete the process which will turn him into a warrior-giant able to support and fight in the weight of power armour. And yes, that is a part painted Skitarii on the end there – don’t hold your breath though, he’s been waiting for the rest of his paint for a while!

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The new marines also scale nicely next to the enemies of the Imperium. The Ork nob still looks suitably brutish but the boy, although an imposing thug next to a guardsman no longer out-performs humanity’s elite on size and muscle mass. The slight visual toning down of the orks that occurs as a result helps to make them into a more believable force – in the old days when they were bigger than space marines, came in hordes and had powerful technology to boot things always looked a little one-sided when they stood face to face with the Imperium. One was left feeling that there must be something terribly wrong with ones orks when one read descriptions of space marines tearing through whole squads of boys single-handedly. Now they look more believable – still terrifying to a guardsman but only a threat to a space marine when there are a lot of them.

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At times one feels that Games Workshop themselves aren’t quite sure what to make of this release. Are these the Space Marines we’ve always dreamed of, shoe-horned into the background, or are they a faction in their own right, for better or worse? GW aren’t sure. With the Intercessors  and the Lieutenants they’ve simply recreated existing Space Marines on a bigger scale, but the same cannot be said of the Inceptors who have almost as much in common with Centurions as they do with Assault Marines. They may have jump packs to carry them hurling through the skies but they are heavier, more industrial, more in keeping with the over engineered Imperial aesthetic, than their little brothers. Again I expect to see talented individuals converting them into Assault Marines but one has to wonder why GW felt we should be forced to, or even how successful they’ll be. Many will undoubted wait to see what else is introduced to the new Primaris range before taking the plunge, hoping for running legs on a future kit which could be mixed with existing Assault Marine bits to truescale the old models.

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Of course it may well be the case that GW are relying on us thinking in a now outdated paradigm. When Age of Sigmar was first released many people looked at it through the lens of Warhammer. The Khorne models all had an equivalent in the old game and people soon took to debating which faction could best be proxied with the Stormcasts and how they could most easily fit into the background of the Old World. With the Primaris marines GW are almost certainly relying on us doing the same thing. We will talk about true-scaling and pretending that Roboute is still on ice whilst new players join the ranks, only dimly aware that there was a world before the Gathering Storm. Meanwhile White Dwarf will be full of pictures of gloriously dramatic Primaris models, and slowly our shelves will fill up with them, the idea bedding in until one day we wake up and find that having two sizes of Space Marine is the new normal and only bitter old grognards are still spitting into their beards about the “good old days”, and being ignored by precisely everyone.

Meanwhile, I suspect, that the old scale Space Marines will quietly go out of stock, slipping away into the night one at a time until only the giants are left. In future editions the supposed size difference between the Space Marines and the Primaris will be reduced until one day the little Space Marines so familiar to us today are as rare on the tabletop as their Rogue Trader era equivalents.

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It’s only been a few months since Guilliman was released and in that time the 40k galaxy has changed vastly. When the Primarch first woke up I was angry and disappointed. How could the writers be so careless with the universe they had inherited? How could they put their own selfish desire to stamp their own ideas onto the story without considering the effect it would have on the fan base? What about the subtle implications of introducing hope to a universe which had excused the fascism of its central faction as a pastiche of a hopeless and crumbling empire? After all if Guilliman succeeded in making the Imperium great again he implicitly proved that the brutality of the preceding centuries had been a necessary evil, a burden to be borne in order to reach a more glorious future.

In spite of my initial upset however I got over it. Guilliman faded into the background, as far away from the filthy hives and ragged inward-looking tech-peasants that inhabit my own vision of the Imperium as any other high lord. 40k rumbled onwards on its pedestal, no more forgiving in actuality of the right-wing than it is of any other political persuasion. In six months time the Primaris marines will have gone to join him, accreted into the ever growing background of 40k. Meanwhile we who gnashed our teeth in such horror in the immediate aftermath of his reawakening will say “well, bringing back Guilliman was one thing, but resurrecting Ferrus Manus as a talking head really is the final straw!”

We’ll get over it, or we’ll wander off to pastures new if we really can’t stomach the new 40k. If you don’t believe me think how ridiculous that one guy in your local gaming group or favoured forum is, the one who’s still talking about how lame Age of Sigmar is, how much GW sucks for killing off the Old World. His tantrums may have sounded like a passionate rallying cry against the injustices inflicted on your favourite fantasy battle game two years ago, now they’re as dull and monotonous as the traffic passing outside your window – and as worthy of your attention.

In the meantime the Space Marines are dead – long live the Space Marines! Now then, what colour am I going to paint them?

 

Further Reading:

If you’ve not still read enough about Primaris marines there’s an excellent article over at Between the Bolter and Me that I highly recommend.

 

If the pictures you see here aren’t photographs of my own miniatures then I’ve lifted them from Games Workshop’s website without even bothering to ask. Agents of the Assassinorum have inevitably been dispatched to silence me. Not to worry, death shall be nothing compared to vindication!